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 k / o
                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

an accident on 280

I got in my car today, grabbed a coffee at 7:20AM at my favorite cafe...large, super dark roast, half-and-half till it's mocha brown...and started my drive to Silicon Valley for a photo shoot.

Don't ask me how I drive and drink coffee in a stick shift. I do. Cup in left hand. Shift with right. And some kind of learned timing thing. I'm a safe driver for the most part. Regardless, this story isn't about me.

Today, going south on 880, because I just didn't have the heart to face the Bay Bridge again this morning, the sun was just this golden thing above the hills east of San Jose. And the hills themselves were clear dark silhouettes...mountains of a sort...and beautiful. I turned the radio off because, hell, sometimes I'd rather think. And, aside from the traffic, there's rarely news on the radio much anymore.

At any rate, I made good time. I'd been late two days running. It's a long haul from Oakland to the South Bay...and my strategy of finding the quickest way to 280 and then cruising down "the most beautiful urban highway in America" had been failing me. Traffic had ensnarled me whatever path I'd taken.

But today I cleared the San Mateo bridge with five minutes to spare, ducked onto 92 to cross to 280 and then things slowed down.

280 really is beautiful. It runs along the San Andreas. Yes, that San Andreas..and, for twelve miles or so, 280 is this pure view of a wooded resevoir set against steep hills covered in redwoods and layered with fog. The sun rises to your left over the Bay....and the trees cut up out of the fog on the right. Around Stanford University, the terrain opens up into rolling oak savannah with a view of the ridge that dominates Silicon Valley. For being where "high tech" happened, it's stunningly beautiful and quiet terrain.

There's a radio dish on the backside of Stanford's campus...searching the skies in the midst of these bare, rolling hills...and I've always thought it sets the tone for what's to come. Technology and natural beauty. A place called Silicon Valley.

Today we crawled through. The traffic was backed up for miles. Luxury cars. Mid-level sedans. Twenty year old beaters from Oakland and San Francisco with funky kids in 'em. One long ribbon of steel and rubber.

Right at the quiet heart of the drive there'd been a collision. Things looked pretty bad. There wasn't much left of either of the two cars. They were crushed beyond recognition and charred. The victims had long since been whisked away. I guess the police had requested the drivers who had witnessed the accident to stay...and so they parked on the side of the road...they stood and waited, numb and blank-faced, in the grass.

It was shocking to think of what can happen to a car. To its occupants. And shocking to consider the why and how. I'd been seeing more deer kills lately. That might have been the cause. It could have been any number of things.

Regardless, I couldn't get those cars out of my head. And how beautiful the morning had been. It got me thinking about whether the folks involved had seen the same sunrise as me. Had maybe turned their radio off. Or not...

It got me thinking if all the folks in the other cars backed up alongside me were thinking the same thing.

There's really nothing conclusive to this reflection: Simultaneity. Vulnerability. Impermanence. Commonality. Our lack of knowing. Really, the impossiblity of ever knowing much at all.

And, of course, the fact that once past the accident...

our little lives protected by the self-same steel skins...

we hurtled forward, once again, into the beauty of that morning and the clear pavement of the open road ahead.



  • Thanks for the essay Paul. I'm hoping for a third one as a kind of "highway trilogy" now!

    By Blogger awol, at 6:31 AM  

  • Thanks for the great essay k/o. Brought back some great memories, as I lived in Santa Cruz county for 15 years, up to a couple years ago, and 280 really is a beautiful, scenic urban highway if you gotta have highways.
    I often jokingly kid to people that its one of the things that makes me believe in God, when I drive on the highways around Denver here, that theres not like a million more accidents then there are. I mean its incredible, here you have these little containers of steel, hurtling along roads at 55, 65, 75, 85 MPH, with oft times reckless, self absorbed pilots, it seems there would be a lot more accidents if not for someone watching over us.


    By Blogger mickey, at 7:23 AM  

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